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Hygiene-related Diseases

Dental Caries (Tooth Decay)

Dental caries or cavities, more commonly known as tooth decay, are caused by a breakdown of the tooth enamel. This breakdown is the result of bacteria on teeth that breakdown foods and produce acid that destroys tooth enamel and results in tooth decay.

Although dental caries are largely preventable, they remain the most common chronic disease of children aged 6 to 11 years and adolescents aged 12 to 19 years. Tooth decay is four times more common than asthma among adolescents aged 14 to 17 years. Dental caries also affects adults, with 9 out of 10 over the age of 20 having some degree of tooth-root decay 1.

Water fluoridation, named by CDC as one of the ten great public health achievements of the 20th century, has been a major contributor to the decline of the rate of tooth decay. Studies have shown that water fluoridation can reduce the amount of decay in children’s teeth by 18-40% 2.

In addition to fluoridated water, good oral hygiene can help prevent tooth decay:

  • Brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste
  • Clean between your teeth daily with floss or interdental cleaner
  • Eat nutritious and balanced meals and limit snacking
  • Visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and oral examination
  • Check with your dentist about use of supplemental fluoride, which strengthens your teeth, and about use of dental sealants (a plastic protective coating) applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth to protect them from decay
  1. Dye BA, Tan S, Smith V, Lewis BG, Barker LK, Thornton-Evans G, Eke PI, Beltrán-Aguilar ED, Horowitz AM, Li CH. Trends in oral health status, United States, 1988-1994 and 1999-2004.External Web Site Icon Vital Health Stat 11. 2007;(248):1-92.
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, (2000). Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General. National Institute of Dental Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health. Rockville, MD.